LIVINGSTON, CA: With the outbreak of Avian Influenza (AI) overseas last year it was only a matter of time before the U.S. media began asking “Could it Happen Here?” and “How Safe is America’s Poultry?” on the front pages of newspapers and magazines and subsequently alarming the chicken-eating public.
Foster Farms, the leading poultry producer on the west coast, had been tracking the issue from the outset and knew it was eventually going to have to assuage the fears of consumers.
"For us, if consumers are afraid to buy our product then we are in trouble," says Gretta Janz, director of marketing at Foster Farms. "We needed to get out in front and control it before it got out of hand."
Janz says once the media began covering the issue, the message was one-sided causing consumers to become confused and scared.
So along with its PR agency, Fineman PR, Foster Farms developed and implemented a plan to help provide the media and consumers with information based on facts and not speculation. "Perception and reality are two different things," Jans says. "We needed to start providing information that would clear things up for everybody."
At first, Foster Farms was working with the poultry industry to answer questions from consumers by providing information on its website and via its consumer hotline.
Michael Fineman, president of Fineman PR, said that in late September, local media outlets began inquiring about what Foster was doing to protect its flocks.
Foster then ran media tours of its ranches. The tours, which were run with the help of AI experts, highlighted the bio-security measures the company has always taken.
The tours got coverage from The Modesto Bee, Merced Sun Star, The Fresno Bee, two local TV stations and CNN
But Janz said it was a November 14 cover story in USA Today that began to ease the public's concern. Foster was featured throughout the article, which reported on the actions taken by the American poultry industry to prevent an outbreak of AI.
The article explained that consumers didn't have to worry about the introduction of AI into commercial poultry products because the industry's practices were designed to prevent it.
"There could have been more of a panic than there was," Janz said. "But the news coverage helped clarify what the reality of the situation was."
"The resulting news articles closed the gap in public perceptions and approached the topic using scientific evidence and sound industry practices to "debunk" myths and reassure consumers," Fineman said.